Next post was going to be about Trilby, but I’ve skipped ahead to 1960 to DeFoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. I got this book, and a couple of others, at “Much Ado” books in Alfriston, East Sussex, UK on a recent visit. Alas, weight and financial limitations prohibited me bringing back to Australia many of the other Folio books they had upstairs.
The Journal is number 141 in the list of Society publications, and the 2nd Defoe. The first was Moll Flanders in 1954. The book is covered in black buckram and suits the mood of the book. There is a striking silver design of pillars with skulls at the top and base on the front board.
There are 49 copies of this edition bound in black morocco, and signed by the illustrator.
The endpapers are a stylised view of London and the Thames.
The woodcut illustrations are by Peter Pendrey. He also illustrated several other Society publications with woodcuts and linocuts. The illustrations are stark, and sometimes disturbing, but fit the text and the mood of the book admirably.
The first 2 illustrations are quite evocative, firstly we see the death cart approaching a narrow street. Almost unseen, the bell ringer is in front. In the next illustration the focus is on the bell ringer. You can almost hear him calling “Bring out your dead”.
The 3rd illustration has women blaming the pestilence on a comet (somewhat ironic given recent hypotheses that life arose on earth from transported material on random bits of astronomical debris impacting our backyard)! Maybe those women weren’t so dumb!
I’ll not dwell too much on the other illustrations, but I’ll put them all up and welcome comments.
So what about the story? On the face of it it would seem to an account of the plague spreading throughout London. But it is much more than this. It’s about how society reacts to a calamity. It’s about how individuals deal with a threat that is beyond understanding. It’s about courage, duty, cowardice and self preservation. It’s about hope and hysteria. It’s about rumour and fear.
It’s well worth a read